Today let us turn our attention to the long-running theme which is the Italian banking sector and in particular Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) the world’s oldest bank. There was always going to be action post the Italian referendum actually whichever way the vote went but in particular with a no vote. This morning our favourite penny stock has been giving us an example of this as highlighted below by the Financial Times.
Care is needed with the chart as the old Y axis trick is at stake and misses past vastly larger falls in the share price of BMPS. But let us examine the news which has brought us here. Reuters was on the case yesterday afternoon.
The Italian treasury is considering raising its stake in Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MI:BMPS) to help the ailing lender remain in business by buying subordinated debt held by retail investors and converting it into equity, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The classic leak to see what the reaction is, trial balloon! Is there an Italian version of Yes Prime Minister? After all such a move would be against Euro area banking rules. It would also be something of an electoral bribe as the retail investors who bought bank debt stock ( what could go wrong?) get the equivalent of the PPI payouts in the UK, although the difference would be that the Italian taxpayer was explicitly paying for it.
On top of that the treasury would buy junior debt held by retail investors to ensure they do not suffer any losses, one of the sources said.
A second source within Italy’s government confirmed the plan. Some 40,000 retail investors hold around 2 billion euros of the Tuscan bank’s junior bonds.
The written equivalent of rhetoric has gained pace according to La Stampa via Google Translate.
But the only rescue of Siena would be like closing a hole in a tank full of holes. The decree to which the Treasury works worth far more than the three-five billion invoked the market for Siena, and at the moment does not provide for the direct intervention of the state, but that of Europe through the bottom Save-States ESM. The dancing figure indicated by two concordant sources of the Treasury is 15 billion euro.
I did enjoy “like closing a hole in a tank full of holes” as a description of BMPS and wonder what the Italian phrase is for this? Also there is a problem with using the ESM.
The ESM funds are formally a loan and therefore involve the signing of an agreement with Europe which requires those in technical jargon are called “conditionality.”
So what was called the Troika until that came to be debased and is now called the institutions ( a bit like the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant in the UK became leak-fee Sellafield) would be setting rules for Italy. Although them being applied seems unlikely with La Stampa pointing out that Spain applied them in theory rather than in practice. The other main issue is that Euro area banking rules have changed and now require bail-ins rather than bailouts although of course even the “rules-based organisation” the ECB has bypassed a few rules in its time.
How did we get here?
The meeting on Monday for the 5 billion Euro debt for equity swap does not seem to have got anyone to put their hands in their wallets or purses. I can’t say I blame them.
The time line of a banking bailout
I have posted this several times before but it seems appropriate to give it another airing.
1. The Board issues a statement accusing bloggers of spreading both irresponsible and factually incorrect rumours as the bank is sound and has no need of new capital.
2. The Bank issues a statement of confidence in its management.
3. The Bank tries to raise more private capital in spite of it having no need for it.
4. If this does not work the relevant government(s) express(es) complete confidence in the bank and tell us that it has a sound management structure and business model. Indeed the bank had only recently been giving the government advice as to how to run the public-sector more efficiently.
5. The relevant government(s) tell us that they are stepping in to help the bank but the problems are both minor and short-term and are of no public concern.
6. The relevant government(s) tell us that the bank needs taxpayer support but through clever use of special purpose vehicles there will be no cost and indeed a profit is virtually certain.
7.Part-nationalisation of the bank is announced and taxpayers are told that a profit will result from this sound and wise investment.
8. Full nationalisation is announced to the sound of teeth being pulled without any anaesthetic.
9. Debt costs of the relevant sovereign nation or nations rise.
10. Consequently that nation finds that its credit rating is downgraded.
11. It is announced that due to difficult financial times public spending needs to be trimmed and taxes such as Value Added Tax need to be raised. It is also announced that nobody could possibly have forseen this and that nobody is to blame apart from some irresponsible rumour mongers who are the equivalent of terrorists. A new law is mooted to help stop such financial terrorism from ever happening again.
12. Some members of the press inform us that bank directors were both “able and skilled” and that none of the blame can possibly be put down to them as they get a new highly paid job elsewhere.
13. Former bank directors often leave the new job due to “unforseen difficulties”.
We seem to find ourselves at point 7 although I must warn you that point 8 can then arrive faster than Usain Bolt.
Enter Mario Draghi
The President of the European Central Bank has been involved in this issue for years and indeed decades as I pointed out on the 21st of January.
If we look further back in time we see that the law covering Italian financial markets is often called the Draghi Law and we note that around the turn of the century he was Director General of the Italian Treasury. Then he went to Goldman Sachs which was busy designing derivatives for Italy and Monte Paschi as well as Greece before returning to head the Bank of Italy. So if there is a crime his fingerprints are all over it.
Of course Mario issued his “everything it takes” speech in the summer of 2012 which was explicitly for the Euro but also has implicitly helped the Italian banks. For example the sovereign bond buying of its QE program has given profits to their large holdings of Italian government debt. The purchases of mortgage debt must have helped their mortgage books as well. Yet in spite of this we are where we are.
Actually he went further before the referendum when he promised to step-up purchases of Italian government bonds should the vote be no. So my argument against Italy going to the ESM would be that it could issue the debt itself very cheaply with Mario’s bond buyers hovering in the background and maybe foreground. Awkward though if his bond buying allows Italy to break the new ECB driven bank bail in rules. After all he keeps telling us that the ECB is a “rules based organisation”.
I expect him to announce tomorrow that the ECB programs will not end in March and give us something along the lines of a 6 month extension. His committees well report but have lost a lot of their modus operandi with the post Trump rise in bond yields although there is still the “safe haven” issue of Germany’s 2 year debt being issued today at -0.71%.
This has been a very long-running saga but one of my markers is back in play.
Italy is not preparing a request for a loan from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to support its banking sector, a Treasury spokesman said on Wednesday, denying a newspaper report.
Never believe anything until it is officially denied!
Of course the media produce all sorts of stories as we see in the world of football transfers where all sorts of inflated numbers appear as click bait. But some of them like Paul Pogba to Manchester United do happen. This is where we find ourselves as for example saying this makes Italy insolvent is not quite true. The QE dam of Mario Draghi holds back that flood for now and maybe “To Infinity! And Beyond” so point 9 of my banking timeline may be skipped. However without QE Italy would face solvency questions which a bank bailout would merely add to.
I bet they now wish they had like used the ESM in 2012 like Spain did.
For BMPS from here on the 21st of January.
MontePaschi: Total capital raised since 2008: €14bn Market value today: €1.5bn ( h/t Macrocredit )
For Italy from Istat earlier.
The unemployment rate remained stable for the fourth consecutive quarter in comparison to the previous quarter and up 0.4 points from the same quarter of 2015, with a growth rate of 132 thousand unemployed.
Not much sign of any recovery there…